EDITORIAL: Selective reactions to U.S. mass attacks
Over the past month and a half, the United States has endured three heinous mass-casualty attacks. An Uzbekistan native used a truck to kill eight people and injure a dozen more in downtown Manhattan, and a pair of homegrown assailants armed with semiautomatic rifles killed a total of 82 people and wounded some 570 in Las Vegas and rural Texas.
The response to these three incidents has been curiously dissimilar.
While politicians insisted it was too soon to explore possible responses to the mass-shootings, within 24 hours of the truck attack, President Donald Trump was renewing calls for a tighter travel ban and a more stringent “extreme vetting” program.
This is doubly disappointing.
On the one hand, “too soon” talk quickly turns into “too late.”
In the first of the two mass-shootings, an Oct. 1 assault in Las Vegas, a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd with a modified assault rifle from the 32nd floor of a casino. He left 58 dead and nearly 550 wounded. It was the deadliest such shooting on U.S. soil.
Talk of legislative efforts to address gun violence were first dismissed as being premature, then forgotten. Just five weeks later, a gunman used a similar weapon to kill 20 and wound 26 inside a church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Talk of legislative efforts to address gun violence were, again, first dismissed as being premature, then forgotten. The Sutherland Springs tragedy has already been displaced from the political consciousness by the alleged misdeeds of a U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama.
On the other hand, Trump’s response to the least deadly — but no less heinous — of the three attacks is alive and well.
“I have just ordered homeland security to step up our already extreme vetting program,” Trump wrote on Twitter in the wake of the Manhattan attack. “Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”
Political correctness has nothing to do with opposition to such measures. The fact is, the United States’ visa vetting process is already one of the toughest in the world, according to the Brennan Center for Justice:
“Applicants’ biographic data, photographs, and fingerprints are collected and screened against a range of national security databases that contain millions of entries and include classified information from federal, state, local, and foreign governments. Applicants must provide voluminous documentation to verify their identities and backgrounds.”
Applicants for immigrant visas, required to stay in the U.S. permanently, are even more stringent, the Center says.
Brennan also points out that, while terrorist attacks in the U.S. by foreign-born people are statistically rare, in such cases radicalization usually take place years after someone has moved into the country, indicating vetting would not have been effective.
Such is the duality of addressing multiple-victim attacks in America: Efforts are made to ratchet up an already rigid series of laws in response to terrorist attacks, while almost nothing is attempted to address the more common and deadlier incidents of mass shootings. (And, of course, there are a variety of steps that can be taken — from closing the gun-show loophole to banning the device the Las Vegas shooter used to modify his weapon into a rapid-fire assault rifle — that leave the Second Amendment whole.)
This is not an either/or proposition. We all agree anything that can be done to minimize and, if possible, prevent terror attacks against U.S. citizens should be done. Why can we not come to the same conclusion regarding gun violence?